By Diane Borgmann / Head of School / Sycamore School
Would you prefer for your child to grow up to be an independent, self-confident adult, or would you prefer that he/she moves back home to live with you? I often ask parents this question facetiously, knowing that every healthy parent wants to raise a strong, independent, self-reliant child. Sometimes, however, as parents, we unwittingly nurture dependence instead of the independence we desire for our children.
Following are some guidelines for nurturing independence in your child:
- Require your child to do what he/she can do. If your child can tie his shoes, don’t tie them for him. If she can pack her own backpack, don’t pack it for her. By allowing—and requiring—our children to do what they are capable of doing, we nurture self-sufficiency and enhance self-esteem. When we do for children things that they are capable of doing for themselves, the subtle message is, “I know you can’t do this very well, so I’ll do it for you.” The way to increase a child’s sense of self-esteem is to let him/her tackle tough things and succeed.
- Don’t overschedule your child. Require that your child be in charge of some of his/her own time and activities. A child cannot successfully develop independence when adults are planning and executing every activity. A child needs time and practice to learn to plan, to think creatively, to experiment, and to make mistakes.
- Don’t succumb to parent peer pressure. This is real. Sometimes, as parents, we allow ourselves to feel threatened by other parents, afraid their children will excel more than ours. After all, if all the other 4-yesr-olds are enrolled in an organized sports program, shouldn’t we enroll our children too? Trust your own judgment about your own child, and make decisions based on his/her needs, not some generalized parent opinion.
- Allow “adult time” for you and your spouse. We often make a mistake by always putting our child first. The relationship between you and your spouse is the primary one, and the quality of that relationship can have a profound effect on how your child sees the world and your family. Don’t make the mistake of worshipping your child.
- Provide opportunities for choices and decision-making. It’s important for children to have some age-appropriate decision-making power. Even if it’s just what to wear, what to eat, or how to style their hair, it’s important that they have some control over decisions that affect them. As they grow, teach strategies for making more important decisions like what music instrument to play or what course to take. But then leave the final decision in their hands! They will not always make the best decision, and they will not always make the decision you would’ve made; but they will learn from the process.
- Encourage autonomy; don’t rescue too quickly. When our child has a problem to solve, the first question we should ask is, “What do you plan to do about that?” Of course, we should be available to answer questions and provide support, but not to navigate the issue for them. They will see that they are capable of solving problems, and their confidence will grow.
- Encourage risk-taking; allow them to make mistakes. We learn best when we’re making mistakes, and it’s vitally important that children be given the opportunity to make mistakes. It’s very hard as a parent to sit back and watch your child make a mistake when you could prevent it. But if you don’t allow that, you’re robbing your child of an important learning experience.
- Respect their perceptions, opinions, and interests. As parents, we need to work on raising the children we have, not those we wish we had. It’s important to listen actively to our children and take their opinions seriously. If they see us carefully considering their ideas and acting on them, then it will not be as big of an issue on the occasion when we can’t go along with their ideas. They are also more like to listen to us and take our opinions seriously if we’ve provided an appropriate model.
- Keep expectations realistic. You know your child and his/her capabilities. Your expectations should align with what you know about your child. It’s probably more common for parents to set expectations too low than too high. Setting expectations too low is probably more costly in the long run and harder to reverse. Challenge your child to the extent he/she can handle the challenge.
This list of guidelines is by no means exhaustive. When thinking about nurturing independence in our children, however, the nine ideas in this list will guide your thinking and actions.
Onward and upward!
By Francine Clayton / Head of Early Childhood / Sycamore School
What is so special about Special Area instruction? Special area studies bring vital skills into a child’s educational experience. These subject areas not only provide experience with essential skills that are unique to the subject area, but they also reinforce and compliment the skills needed in traditional academic areas. Rejecting time for art appreciation, physical education, foreign language or music in order to put more time into math or language arts is a misguided use of instructional time. Eliminating these special classes from the curriculum weakens overall instruction.
I will list four special area classes and examine the ways that these areas of instruction, having merit in their own right, also enhance overall academic instruction.
It is obvious that, for young children, learning to manipulate, markers, crayons, scissors, paintbrushes, modeling clay, and other medium will strengthen their fine motor skills. These are skills needed for handwriting, tying shoes, buttoning buttons, and zipping zippers. What other benefits are there for children who are involved in art appreciation?
• Learning skills required for the successful use of a maker space.
• Learning to evaluate a product, identify possible flaws, and improve the design
• Developing critical and creative thinking.
• Learning to evaluate visual information and ideas.
• Developing a broader vocabulary and the use of descriptive words.
• Become a better consumer by learning how to evaluate persuasive visual art in advertising.
With all of the concern over childhood and adult obesity as well as all of the related health issues, the need for physical activity should be obvious. Children who learn to be physically active when they are young are much more likely to continue the habit in later years. That fact on its own should help us all realize that recess and physical education are vital to the well being of our students. In case anyone needs more convincing, here are more benefits to be gained by regular physical activity.
• Better social and motor skill development
• Strengthening developing muscles, bones, and joints
• Reducing fat and lowering blood pressure
• Reducing depression and anxiety
• Building self-confidence, concentration and coordination from an early age.
It is clear that physical activity is important at school and at home. There are so many ways to be active. Even children who are not interested in intense physical activity can find something to enjoy.
Children from birth to six years of age are considered to be in the “music babble” stage. This is much the same as the “language babble” stage for young children. Children continue to develop musically through a sequence of activities that will include singing in tune and marching to a beat. A rich music environment will continue to provide exposure to music elements. This continuous exposure will result in a child’s playful experimentation with music. The most typical reason that this skill does not develop in a child is simply a lack of exposure. What other benefits are there to music education?
• The development of brain areas that involve language and reasoning
• A causal link has been found between music and spatial intelligence
• Creative thinking and problem solving
• Recent studies show higher achievement in other academic areas when children are involved in music education
• Children learn the value of sustained effort to attain excellence
• Music provides children with a means of self-expression which leads to self-esteem
• Music performance teaches children to conquer anxiety and take risks.
• Self- discipline and cooperation skills are developed
Children that know a language other than their native English, learn to be more open to people from other cultures and those who speak another language. As our economy and our existence become more global in nature, it is important that our children develop a willingness to understand the differences in the people of the world. The Early Language Learning Research White Paper Report that was updated in January 2008 and is published by Early Advantage has indicated some benefits to learning a foreign language. In the paper, there are six advantages listed.
• Earlier is Better: Children who begin to learn a foreign language as early as the age of 3 have an advantage. They learn quickly and often are more ready to learn another new languages in the future.
• Foreign language study increases cognitive abilities, including intellectual and academic
• Foreign language study improves verbal skills in English.
• Children who study foreign language have higher test scores in English and Math than English only children.
• Knowledge of foreign language provides students access to more opportunities in higher education and beyond
• Foreign language knowledge leads to better employment opportunities and higher salaries
It is easy to see that the Special Area classes of art appreciation, music, physical education, and foreign language are indeed very special. They are valuable in their own right but they also contribute to the achievement of children in many other areas. Cutting these opportunities from the curriculum so that children spend more time at their desks studying traditional academics is clearly an unfortunate decision. So, if you exercise even once in a while, enjoy listening to any kind of music or sing in the shower, appreciate the beauty that you see around you every day, and value the friendship or point of view of someone who is not exactly like you, thank those very special, Special Area teachers.
By Diane Borgmann / Head of School / Sycamore School
The holiday season seems like an appropriate time to think about appreciation and gratitude. How do we teach children to show appreciation, and is that important? I believe the answer to the second part of my question is yes, and I’d like to discuss ways that we might teach children to be grateful and why that’s important.
Appreciation is the ability to know and value others; it’s a foundation for learning to be empathetic. Before children can learn to identify with and be sensitive to feelings, thoughts, and attitudes of others, they need to learn to value others. We can help children learn to step outside of their one-person universe and be more other-focused. Children who never learn to do this often feel entitled and perpetually disappointed. Grateful people report higher levels of happiness and optimism and lower levels of depression and stress than those who have not learned to be grateful.
Gratitude and appreciation are learned. So how do we teach our kids these attitudes and behaviors? Even toddlers understand that they are separate from their parents, and the older children are, the more sophisticated that understanding becomes. They will, however, model parents’ behavior, so it is essential that you model the behaviors you want to teach your children.
Following are some ideas and strategies for teaching children appreciation:
- Teaching good manners is a great place to start. Requiring appropriate use of “please,” “thank you,” “excuse me,” etc. should be practiced every day.
- Even very young children can begin to say what they’re thankful for. Make it a regular occurrence to verbally express appreciation.
- Weave gratitude into your everyday conversation. Point out your own appreciation for people who contribute positively to your life.
- Engage your kids in projects of goodwill that are meaningful to your family. It might be visiting an elderly neighbor, delivering homemade food, shoveling a neighbor’s driveway, or just sending a cheery note to a sick friend. In my family we make it a tradition to ring the bells for Salvation Army during the Christmas season. Opportunities are endless and should resonate with your family.
- Encourage generosity. In the early stages, I would recommend requiring Have an expectation that your children will somehow contribute some of what they have to a cause they care about.
- Require thank-you notes and calls. Even very young children can dictate a note, draw a picture, or make a phone call. These thank-you gestures should be immediate, heartfelt, and somewhat “meaty.” I wouldn’t allow a one- or two-sentence thank-you note from a Lower School age child. The rule for kids in our family was that the gift could not be used until the thank-you note was written.
- Clarify your own attitudes about consumption, and model those attitudes. If you grant every whim of your child, he/she probably will not develop much appreciation for those gifts.
- Give kids responsibility and allow them to contribute in a variety of ways to your family and their community. (See my previous blog about chores.)
- Holiday time can often mean an ocean of gifts. That can be overwhelming to kids, and it’s hard to have true appreciation and enjoyment of a gift when there are so many it becomes a distraction. When it comes to holiday gifts, some of the following tips may help:
- Take the big day slowly. There’s no reason to complete the celebration quickly and thus not allow time to really appreciate a specific gift.
- If there are lots of gifts, stash some away and rotate choices through the following weeks and months.
- Let your children help with shopping for others and choose gifts that are thoughtful and from the heart. (Gifts Galore provides Sycamore students a unique opportunity to shop independently and think of others.)
- Set limits with family and friends to avoid the gift glut. Some gifts can be long term, like a contribution to an investment fund that will be much appreciated at another stage of life. Gifts of activities pay off in lots of ways: a trip to the zoo, a museum, a play, a fun day out, etc.
We need to help our kids learn to be appreciative just like we need to help them learn to speak, read, write, etc. Clarify your own values so you can stand firm when your child challenges you about what “all the other kids” have or do. They may not like responses you give them, but that’s fine. They will internalize those values, and it will pay off as they grow and develop. Be patient and listen to your children. Just like all other character traits, appreciation does not develop overnight. It’s a learning process, and I believe you will love what you see develop.
Have a wonderful holiday season and a terrific break with your kids!
Onward and upward!
By Francine Clayton / Head of Early Childhood /Sycamore School
One of the many delightful parts of raising children is introducing them to literature. Children begin this journey by chewing on cloth or board books. Eventually they understand that books are valuable for their content and not just for their flavor or their use as a teething device. What a milestone! Now, however, you are faced with a myriad of books with differing content as well as the style of illustrations. There are so many choices in both the fiction and non- fiction categories that it is difficult to decide what is appropriate for your high ability child. I have some suggestions that may help you navigate the waters of children’s literature.
First we will look again at a few of the characteristics of a high ability child. The characteristics that will impact your literature choices are:
- Develops a large vocabulary
- Learns quickly
- Excellent memory
- Variety of interests
- Has a sense of humor
How can books address these characteristics?
- Exposure to new information or explore a particular interest
- Exposure to new vocabulary or the phrasing of language
- Exposure to new cultures and/or ideas
- Exposure to new experiences or a new point of view
- Develop an appreciation for different types of illustrations
- Social and Emotion Growth
- Identification with another person’s problem or feelings
- Finding ways to cope with difficult situations, worries, anxiety, and other emotions
- Refine a developing sense of humor
- Develop imagination and creativity
- Begin to develop a value system and a moral compass
Now that we have looked at some characteristics of gifted children and identified ways that books can support these characteristics, we will look at the qualities in a book that would make it a good choice for a gifted child. I have provided some examples of books that have one or more of these characteristics. You will find many books, however, that would also be excellent choices but it helps to have some guidelines when evaluating a book.
- Quickly engage the reader/listener with content that captures their emotional interest. The characters need to be feeling real emotion. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Amos and Boris by William Steigs. Yesterday I Had the Blues by Jeron Ashford Frame
- Judge the length carefully for your child. It should not be too long, too short or contain bland and uninteresting content. Look for plots that are not predictable. The Secret Shortcut by Mark Teague. Could Be Worse by James Stevenson, Stone Soup, retold by John Warren Stewig. You can also have a lot of fun with well-known plots that have a twist. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka, and The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugenios Trivizas . Hen Lake and The Princess and the Pizza by Mary Jane Auch
- Assess the illustrations and the text. Do they enhance the story line? Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins. Children should be able to look at the illustrations over and over and still find more to see. The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brumbeau; pictures by Gail DeMarcken, and Anno’s Counting House by Mitsumasa Anno. Also look for variety in the illustrations of different books. Shadows and Reflections by Tana Hoboan, Once A Mouse by Marcia Brown.
- Consider the vocabulary and or phrasing that are used in the text. Books that are written by Beatrix Potter are delightful and introduce the children to new ways of expressing an idea. The Beatrix Potter Anthology is a wonderful investment. Children also enjoy word play. Me First by Helen Lester. High Ability children love to expand their vocabulary. Books that introduce words that may seem too big or scientific for young children are actually very appropriate for them. A Rock is Lively by Dianna Huts Aston, Rocks and Fossils by Chris Pellant , The Care and Feeding of Dinosaurs by Timothy J. Bradley, and Prehistoric Animals by Gail Gibbons.
- Introduce new experiences and cultures through literature. Abuela’s Weave by Omar S. Castanada, When Birds Could Talk and Bats Could Sing by Virginia Hamilton, Anno’s Journey by Mitsumasa Anno, and Luka’s Quilt by Georgia Guback,
- Validate your child’s experiences and help them develop a system of values. Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco, What if—by Regina J. Williams, The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant, Andrew’s Angry Words by Dorothy Lachner, Miss. Rumphius by Barbara Cooney, Brave Irene by William Steig, Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie by Peter Roop, Horton Hatches the Egg and The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss,
Reading to your child and sharing favorite books is a precious pass time that is a joy to both the child and the parent. When you are reading to your child, seat your child close to you so he or she may easily see the pictures and help with page turning. Briefly explain vocabulary that may be new to your child. Casually check for understanding if the information is new. Some concepts may need a little interpretation in order to bring meaning to the story. Remember that your child, who may already be a reader, will still enjoy having you read to them. You will be able to introduce them to picture books that have a higher reading level than they have achieved. Besides, cuddling up to a parent and hearing the comforting sound of their voice is irreplaceable.
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317.202.2544 (Admissions) / 317.202.2500 (Front Desk)
By Susan Karpicke / Director of Admissions / Sycamore School
- Gifted programs are not, by definition, appropriate for every child. They are designed for kids who need a special kind of education because their intellectual functioning places them in the upper 2-3% of the population when compared with their age peers. Although many parents want their child enrolled in a gifted class, program, or school, enrolling a child in any kind of academic program that isn’t a good fit is not a good thing for that child.
- Gifted kids are not “cookie cutter” kids; they do not all fit the same mold. They are individuals with unique personalities and temperaments just like other children. They need academic programming that is differentiated according to their individual needs.
- There is a difference between a gifted child and a high achiever. Gifted children have a high level of intellectual potential that allows them to think and learn in ways that are different from their age peers. High achievers are those who demonstrate high levels of achievement in specific academic areas when compared with their age group. Gifted kids are not always high achievers and high achievers are not always gifted.
- If a child is not good at a particular subject it doesn’t mean he/she is not gifted. Conversely, just because a child is good at a particular subject does not necessarily mean that he/she is gifted. Lots of gifted children have areas of strength along with areas of weakness relative to their strengths.
- As a parent, you know your child better than anyone. Be sure to share everything that you have observed that has caused you to think your child may be gifted with the person who is trying to evaluate and identify your child.
- Young children come with a very short paper trail. Because of this, the identification of young gifted kids is often based on limited information. The older child comes with more “data” that can be useful in determining his/her academic needs. Shadow days in a gifted class or at a gifted school can provide critical teacher input about a child to help ensure a good school placement.
- Lists of the characteristics of gifted kids provide important identifiers that can be useful when combined with more objective data. Please see the “12 Signs” at sycamoreschool.org for examples of these characteristics.
- Sometimes gifted kids don’t achieve at the level you expect because they simply haven’t been exposed to the material. This is the danger in identifying gifted kids only by their academic performance. If a high ability child does not know how to multiply teach him/her and watch what evolves.
- No decision is terminal. If your child doesn’t get admitted to a gifted program try again or try a different program. Gifted programs and schools often have different admission criteria as well as different numbers of openings in their programs. If you believe you have a gifted child be his/her advocate. Remember, you know your child better than anyone.
For more information on identifying gifted children, please contact Dr. Susan Karpicke, Director of Admissions at Sycamore School, at email@example.com or visit our website, www.sycamoreschool.org.
By Glenna Lykens / Head of Lower School / Sycamore School
Many gifted children are voracious readers. They may have taught themselves to read at an early age, possess an advanced vocabulary, read much more than same age peers, and continue to love to read into and after middle school years. They often prefer nonfiction, or like fiction genres such as fantasy or science fiction. Gifted readers should be allowed to read or reread books of their choosing, but guidance (not dictation) with book suggestions can be helpful.
I believe that books can help gifted children develop in a variety of ways. As they explore their own identities, books can help them consider who they are and what they believe. It’s important that they can find books with characters and issues to which they can relate. Books can support children’s social and emotional development, helping them consider the importance of relationships, contemplate a different point of view, or develop empathy for others. Books often help children grow intellectually, as they develop passions for various topics or academic areas. It’s also important to expose gifted children to books that can help them appreciate a wide variety of genres. Since gifted readers can often read at a higher reading level than their age level, one concern of parents is finding books that have appropriate content for their child’s age level.
Parents can look for reviewed lists of books from a variety of places. Some I recommend are children’s and teachers’ choices lists from the International Literacy Association (http://www.literacyworldwide.org/get-resources/reading-lists), the book award winners from the Association for Library Service to Children (http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia), ideas from Hoagies’ Gifted Ed page (http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/reading_lists.htm), ideas from Bertie Kingore (http://www.bertiekingore.com/gtchildreninlit.htm), and links from the Davidson Institute for Talent Development (http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/browse_resources_273.aspx).
There are so many wonderful books for gifted kids that on any particular day I can come up with totally different suggestions, but I would like to share some books I talked about recently at a parent presentation at Sycamore School. It is fun to pair books together, so I have created a list of three great pairings, with six total books.
1.It is based on the true story of a gorilla kept captive for 27 years in a shopping mall storefront before being able to spend his last years in a kinder environment at Zoo Atlanta. Ivan, the gorilla, is the narrator of the book and focuses on his perspective of his life and friendships. A great book to pair with this is the picture book Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla, also by Katherine Applegate. It tells Ivan’s story in the traditional way, and includes facts and photos of Ivan at the end.
2. Another great pairing is Chris Van Allsburg’s books The Mysteries of Harris Burdick and The Chronicles of Harris Burdick. The first one is a picture book with Van Allsburg’s signature mysterious illustrations, each of which includes just a sentence story starter. It’s great for kids to be able to create their own written or oral story to accompany the pictures. The second book was written years later, and includes a story created for each picture by different children’s book authors. It’s fun for kids to compare their stories to the authors’ stories.
3. A final pairing is Jacqueline Briggs Martin’s Snowflake Bentley paired with the book by Bentley titled Snow Crystals. Snowflake Bentley is the biography of Wilson Bentley, born in 1865, who spent years photographing snowflakes and discovered that no two snowflakes are alike. Snow Crystals is his published book of his photographs. Kids will love hearing his story and seeing his beautiful photographs. It will make them excited for the first snow of the season!
Many children enjoy reading graphic novels, and there are many to choose from. One I shared was a graphic novel done of the classic book A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. It could be interesting to see which version your child might like best. The story is a great book about children searching for their missing father. It’s a fantasy and a mystery, and children will be able to relate to the characters in the story, all of whom are gifted in different ways. I personally like the original best, but have had students at Sycamore praise the graphic novel version! A book that is not a graphic novel, but is full of wonderful illustrations is the chapter book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. It’s a great book for kids that are both avid and reluctant readers, since about half of the 530 pages tell the story through illustrations only. It’s the longest book to every win the Caldecott Medal in 2008.
Many students at Sycamore recommended the book Land of Stories: The Wishing Well by Chris Colfer. I have to agree it’s a wonderful book, the first in a series about a brother and sister that end up in a land of fairy tale characters. Gifted kids enjoy fantasy and this one delivers with magic and mystery as they try to get back home. Another fantasy is The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Stewart, also the first in a series. What’s great about this one is that the characters are all gifted children.
Some books I shared that I feel focus on children learning to understand and accept other people and cultures are The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Rain Reign by Ann Martin, Silent Music: A Story of Bagdhad by James Rumford, Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, and The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson. Some are picture books and some are chapter books; read about them on Amazon to see what you think.
I don’t have the space to continue book talking, but I am including my entire list of suggestions. You may want to take the time to check them out and see which ones might be a great fit for your child. There are fiction, nonfiction, and poetry selections. Don’t assume a picture book must be for younger children, some of the picture books will be great for older elementary kids. I hope you enjoy these!
Lower School Book Suggestions / November 2015 / Glenna Lykens
Applegate, Katherine. Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla.
Applegate, Katherine. The One and Only Ivan.
Bentley, W. A. and Humphreys, W. J. Snow Crystals.
Brink, Carol Ryrie. Caddie Woodlawn.
Cameron, Ann. The Stories Julian Tells.
Campbell, Sarah. Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature.
Colfer, Chris. The Land of Stories.
DK Publishing. True or False?
Dotlich, Rebecca Kai. One Day, The End.
Floca, Brian. Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11.
George, Jean Craighead. My Side of the Mountain.
Goodall, Jane. The Chimpanzees I Love.
Hannigan, Katherine. Ida B.
Henkes, Kevin. The Year of Billy Miller.
Hoberman, Mary Ann. The Tree That Time Built.
Hunt, Lynda Mullaly. Fish in a Tree.
Jenkins, Steve. Actual Size.
Jonas, Ann. Round Trip.
Kerley, Babara. Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins.
Konigsburg, E. L. From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.
Law, Ingrid. Savvy.
L’Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time.
L’Engle, Madeleine and Larson, Hope. A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel.
Le Guin, Ursula. Catwings.
Martin, Ann M. Rain Reign.
Martin, Jacqueline Briggs. Snowflake Bentley.
Michael, Pamela (Editor). River of Words: Young Poets and Artists on the Nature of Things.
Nelson, Kadir. Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans.
Pennypacker, Sara. Clementine.
Palacio, R. J. Wonder.
Polacco, Patricia. The Trees of the Dancing Goats.
Rumford, James. Silent Music: A Story of Bagdhad.
Sayre, April Pulley. Stars Beneath Your Bed: The Surprising Story of Dust.
Scanlon, Liz Garton. All the World.
Selznick, Brian. The Invention of Hugo Cabret.
Shulman, Mark. Mom and Dad Are Palidromes.
Singer, Marilyn. Follow Follow.
Stewart, Trenton Lee. The Mysterious Benedict Society.
Van Allsburg, Chris. The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: Fourteen Amazing Authors Tell the Tales.
Van Allsburg, Chris. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.
Woodson, Jacqueline. Each Kindness.
Woodson, Jacqueline. The Other Side.
By Francine Clayton / Head of Early Childhood / Sycamore School
Sycamore school is dedicated to the development of academically gifted children. We also believe that character development is as important as cognitive development. We want our students to use their gifts for good. This strong belief has lead to the identification of several character traits that all grade levels in all divisions weave into daily activities. These character traits are our core values. They are identified and explained below:
Respect: Children are taught to respect themselves, others, time, and property
Empathy: Stand in someone else’s shoes. How do you feel?
Moral Courage: When you know that something is either right or wrong, speak out and do the right thing. Sometimes you may be the only one who will.
Relationships: Learn to develop and value positive relationships.
Under the leadership of their teachers, the Kindergarten children are bringing these core values into their study of Pilgrim Communities.
Throughout the unit, the children learned many details about the history of the Pilgrims’ journey, how they formed and governed their new community, what they wore and ate. They also learned about the need for everyone to work together and share the hard work that was required to maintain a strong community. Along with all of this factual information, Sycamore’s core values were woven into the unit. As a final project, the children discussed ways that they could help other people who are in need. They located a local food pantry and took a field trip there in order to understand how it is organized and why it is needed. Soliciting the help of the Sycamore community, they collected food items for the pantry, delivered the items and helped stock the pantry shelves. They certainly learned about forming positive relationships with people, organizations, and an entire community.
The children learned who the Pilgrims were and why they are called Pilgrims. They learned about the injustices that this group of people endured before boarding the Mayflower and sailing for America. After examining the reasons for the exodus to the New World, the children understood and respected the courage that the Pilgrims possessed. They had to be dedicated and courageous people in order to maintain their values, set sail, and remain at sea for many months. The Pilgrims finally landed in the New World and began to settle the Plymouth colony. There were more problems to be faced and many people did not survive the hardships. Fortunately, the Pilgrims were befriended by the Wompanoag tribe and that made all the difference to their ultimate survival. The empathy that these Native Americans were able to feel for the Pilgrims allowed them to put aside their distrust of these strangers and do what they felt was right. The Wompanoags helped the Pilgrims survive by teaching them how to raise crops and endure the harsh winters of the New World. The tribe shared their knowledge, skill, physical labor, and material belongings in order to help the pilgrims who were so desperately in need.
The story of the first Thanksgiving is a favorite of many Americans, but there was more to that celebration than food and games. It was the celebration of two very different groups of people who came together through respect, empathy and moral courage in order to forge a positive relationship. They used their knowledge and gifts for good.
By Diane Borgmann / Head of School / Sycamore School
How many of you had chores for which you were responsible as a child? How many of you require your children to do chores? In a recent study, 82% of U.S. adults with children reported that they were responsible for chores as a child, but only 28% reported requiring their own children to do chores. Why has there been this change over time? Perhaps it’s because many of our children have “to-do lists” as long as our own and we hesitate to add to those lists. Our lives are already hurried and frantic, so why pile on?
There is importance and lasting value in teaching and requiring our children to be responsible for chores. Why? I think the following list is a least a good start to the argument for requiring chores:
• Children learn the idea that “we’re all in this together.” Being part of a family demands contributions from everyone, and the responsibility should be shared.
• Children learn a sense of mastery, accomplishment, responsibility, and self-reliance.
• They learn empathy by understanding everything it takes to keep a family and a household running smoothly.
• They learn the satisfaction that comes from serving and responding to the needs of others.
• They enhance their own self-esteem by being valuable contributors to a larger cause.
• They learn important skills that will serve them well throughout life.
• They may even have fun!
Children’s chores should start early—even at age 2 or 3. It will be harder to implement a system of chores as children get older. Use your own judgment about what your child may be capable of doing. Following are ideas that even very young children can handle as chores:
• Put toys away
• Feed pets
• Put clothes in hamper
• Straighten books and magazines
• Empty wastebaskets
• Bring in the mail or newspaper
• Set and clear the table
• Water plants and flowers
• Load/unload the dishwasher
• Make their bed
• Sort, wash, fold, or put away laundry
• Rake leaves
• Put away groceries
• Help prepare meals
• Walk pets
• Mop floor
• Wash car
• Clean bathroom
• Change sheets
When implementing a system of chores, the following tips might be helpful:
• Keep chores realistic in light of a child’s capabilities.
• Schedule a time for chores.
• At times, give children a choice of chores.
• Create “levels” of chores, so they will know as they master one, they can take on a new, harder responsibility.
• Watch your language. Make sure you are not modeling complaining about chores.
• Don’t insist on perfection, and don’t micromanage or re-do chores.
• First teach your child how to do a specific chore; do it together; then turn it over to your child. Be specific about what is required for a specific chore.
• Be consistent in your expectations.
• Don’t nag. Use the “when/then” method of accountability. (e.g. “When the bathroom is clean, then you may go play with your friends.”)
• A weekly chart can be a good way of tracking accountability. Rewards should be praise, family time, etc.—not physical prizes.
Studies tell us that children who have regular chores at home are more responsible and successful adults—both academically and in everyday life. I strongly recommend that chores become a part of your child’s experience.
By Glenna Lykens / Head of Lower School / Sycamore School
Parents and teachers that know me, know that I preach – I mean talk! – about fostering resilience in children as often as possible. Sometimes people act like resilience is a trait that someone either does or doesn’t have. I think resilience is a process that can and should be taught and fostered. I also think it is important for this to happen both at home and in school.
There is a lot of buzz about grit in the education world today, and sometimes people interchange grit and resilience. I believe they are different. Where grit focuses on perseverance, which is also important, resilience focuses on the ability to bounce back from adversity. Resilience can be learned and developed, and as we learn we increase the range of strategies we can use when things get difficult. Everyone experiences difficulties and times of distress, but people can improve the way they respond in those times to increase their chance to be successful when they move forward.
For teachers and parents to help children develop resilience, they must first form strong connections with them. Those connections need to give children a sense of belonging and show them that they have both physical and emotional security within the home or classroom. The adults are both a source of support and a model for the strategies and behaviors that resilient people have.
Children need help in developing competence through experiences. They need to learn that they can make responsible choices and trust their judgment. Adults can help children learn to identify and build upon their strengths, facilitate their thinking and decision making, and allow them to make mistakes and try again.
As children begin to realize their own competence they build confidence in their abilities. Confidence does not come from adults telling children they are special or wonderful. It comes from children experiencing challenges and learning to cope with them. Adults should focus on children’s qualities of fairness, persistence, kindness, etc., not just on their achievements, and should praise specific and authentic qualities and achievements. For example, instead of saying, “You’re such a great artist!” a parent or teacher could say, “Your choices of colors in your painting are so bright. Look at the variety of flowers and colors you used!”
For children to develop competence they need to develop a strong character. When children have a sense of right and wrong, display caring and kindness, and show respect to others, they have a strong sense of self-worth. Adults should help children understand how certain behaviors affect other people in good and bad ways. It’s important for children to identify and clarify their values so they can draw upon them as they make decisions about their actions. Tying into character, it can be a powerful lesson for children to see that their personal contributions can make the world a better place. They can gain a sense of purpose that can be motivating and enhance their competence and character.
Finally, as children gain competence and confidence, they begin to see that they can control the outcomes of their decisions and actions. They start to realize that they have the ability to bounce back if those outcomes are not what they expect or want. Parents and teachers need to give children as much personal control as the children can handle. If the adults make too many decisions children can feel as if everything happens to them and that the control is external, instead of learning that they have internal control over outcomes and responses to those outcomes. Developing a sense of autonomy helps children deal with unexpected issues that arise and helps them cope with challenges.
Here are some things parents and teachers can do to help children become resilient:
• Let children know they matter.
• Don’t accommodate every need; let children try to solve problems on their own first.
• Avoid eliminating all risk. Allow appropriate risks and age-appropriate freedoms.
• Give children responsibilities; they need opportunities to learn, not lectures.
• Help children set realistic goals for themselves.
• Teach children to problem-solve. When they have a problem, ask them what they think they can do to solve it.
• Avoid asking “why” questions. Ask “how” questions. (Don’t ask, “Why did you do that?” Ask, “Since you did that, how are you going to fix it?”)
• Don’t provide all the answers. Saying, “I don’t know,” and following up with, “What do you think?” is a good alternative.
• Let children make mistakes and teach them that mistakes are an opportunity to learn. They need to learn that mistakes are not the end point, but the point to figure out what to do next.
• Help children manage their emotions. All emotions are okay, but they need to learn how to respond to them.
• Model resiliency. Admit your mistakes, talk through how you’ll deal with them.
• Help children identify and develop their strengths.
Parents and teachers can work together to guide children and teach them to be resilient. Being able to bounce back from adversity and have the skills to learn from mistakes and try again will help them in all aspects of their lives.
By Patrick Juday / Chief Financial Officer / Sycamore School
This is actually a Mission Moment that I shared with the Board of Trustees last spring.
Every year I have been presenting my fossil collection to the preschool and fourth grade classes as a guest speaker. The fossils I show include some I collected in Indiana such as horn corals, brachiopods and trilobites. There are also some reproductions, fossils I’ve purchased out of state, and gifts from friends. I introduce myself as the “money man” at Sycamore, tell them how I became a huge fan of dinosaurs when I was their age, and proceed to talk about the ancient animals that roamed the State of Indiana a very long time ago. The presentation ends with the students able to handle fossils out of plastic bins, providing a tactile first-hand experience with actual fossils from their home state.
Last spring the preschool presentation date came up on me sooner than I expected. With work going on with the campaign and construction project, I was actually considering cancelling my fossil presentation. I stuck it out and did it (although I did miss the original time and had to reschedule for later in the morning). As I proceeded to present the fossils, I was reminded of the wonderful experiences I had in previous years, which is to see these bright faces shine as they asked me questions and handled the fossils. This time I had three very distinctive and memorable responses from the preschoolers.
• The reward of a child’s honesty – One student came up to me with a fossil, asking me what it was. As I started to tell him, he pulled back and started waving his hand over his nose. Embarrassed, I asked him if I had coffee breath, and holding his nose he nodded yes. I apologized and told him I would tell him without breathing his way, knowing I would never forget that amusing moment.
• The reward of a child’s affection – Another student came up to ask about a fossil they pulled from a bin. When I finished explaining what the animal was, the child gave me just an incredible smile. Teachers may experience this nearly every day, but CFO’s don’t, and it has stuck with me.
• The reward of a child’s innovation – A day after my presentation, one of the preschoolers came to my office with an assistant and showed me a very nice fossil coral he had found. He had a plan to create a piece of artwork with it; specifically, a scorpion. He and the teacher weren’t sure if he should do that with a fossil, and I told him I thought it would be a great idea. A few days later he and the assistant came back with a stunning scorpion, with the legs, claws and stinger arching beautifully over the back made of clay and fashioned quite accurately around the fossil coral making up the body. It was very well made, it looked like it could have been created by a fourth grader, and the student was rightfully very proud of his creation.
I hope to continue to contribute in this small way in the classroom as it helps me to connect directly with students. I certainly won’t ever forget these experiences and the rewards they’ve given me and the lessons I’ve learned from them.